Sunday 15 December 2013

It's not just a "stack of sticks"

A stack of sticks?
Mrs S has a lot to put up with really! Unlike most men, I'm not out playing golf, watching football (that's soccer to the philistine Americans!) or even chasing women or doing drink and drugs! My horrible man-habit leaves me in the house most of the time! I'm either surfing the intertubes for more toys, purchasing more toys, unwrapping more toys, solving all said toys (sometimes noisily with jingling - gulp! or with lots of swearing) and finally spending hours on the computer writing about the toys after having taken obsessive photos of them on our nice granite kitchen work surface!! So this means that I am in the house a lot and not doing the chores that she wants me to do! Well as a bloke I can't multitask! I couldn't possibly do chores and puzzle at the same time - so puzzles take priority as I'm sure you would all agree is the correct choice.

Recently I received a few deliveries (those of you who visit my Facebook pages know that I receive so many deliveries that I am on first name terms with my postman!!) and I always show them to "her" hoping for a positive response. Most times I get the "that's nice" response without her even looking up at them. To get her proper attention I would need to announce that I had received a pair of shoes or a handbag! But my last delivery got a new response:
"They all look the same! It's just a stack of sticks"
Aaaaargh!!!!! How can she say such a thing??? Can she not see the beauty, the workmanship and the soon to happen fun? Obviously not! Sob!!!

My last 2 deliveries have been some absolutely stunning sets of puzzles from 2 brilliant craftsmen. The first has had a bit of a revival recently - The New Pelikan workshop (originally run by the late Joseph Pelikan who sadly died in 2005 and now taken over by former workers Jakub Dvorak and his partner Jaroslav Svejkovsky) has been producing a lot of new puzzles recently and selling either direct to the public as well as through the a number of puzzle outlets. Their own website is not great so in Europe I would suggest using Bernhard Schweitzer's marvellous Puzzlewood, in the Americas go to Puzzle Master for a fantastic selection and in Australia, MrPuzzle has a nice collection for sale too.

Jakub emailed me a while ago about a few new ones coming up for sale and asked whether I would be interested. Of course he knows me quite well now - he included some photos and I started to salivate immediately and of course, as he knew I would, said yes straight away - I've never let him down before and don't intend to now!

Front of HALT Back of HALT

The first is a fabulous construction made from Wenge and Maple. It is called HALT for obvious reasons. Designed by the incredibly prolific Stéphane Chomine, it is an interlocking shape inside of a cage forming a word! During my discussions with a very good friend who makes his own puzzles for himself and for me, he said that this was one of the very best framed puzzles that he had seen recently and the only reason he had not made it himself was that the accuracy required was beyond his skills! Now I have to say that this is a tremendous endorsement - my friend has a knowledge of puzzles that is simply staggering and if he says something is good then I believe it without question! With his praise ringing in my ears (or is it eyes if it's via email?) this was the first of the delivery I picked up and he was absolutely correct - it requires a lovely sequence of moves to solve. The only other puzzle like this with a word built in was the HELP cube designed by Trevor Wood and made by the original Pelikan workshop.

Just beautifully made - letters outside the cage
It is level 21.8.2 but it is possible to cut this considerably if you do an illegal rotational move (it is nice to find this too). Level 21 sounds awful but it is actually a rather nice sequence and a pleasure to explore. Even the reassembly is not too arduous. The workmanship on this puzzle is astonishing - it has absolutely perfect tolerances and I can understand why my friend did not want to attempt to make it himself without professional equipment!

Pieces of Stan
The next one that I picked up was simply called Stan and designed by a friend Tamás Vanyó who has just this year begun producing new puzzle designs at an incredible rate. The interesting thing about Tamás' designs is that they tend to be very unusual shapes (some of which have just got to be seen to be believed) with rather interesting solutions. Stan's frame was made by Jakub in Walnut with beautiful Maple slip-feathers and Padauk pieces - I love the way he finishes the shapes. I have a few of these framed pieces and adore the curved frame with the slip-feathers so well incorporated. The aim is to slide the padauk pieces about to allow them to be removed from the frame - it is not hard at level but is a nice little diversion. 

Many similar pieces
I noticed with a little horror that Jerry had just reviewed this puzzle (Konstrukt) just a few minutes before I began to write this post but I think he will forgive me also writing about it because 1) I have linked to his blog, b) because he will agree that it is a beautiful puzzle - perfect for almost all puzzlers and absolutely lovely to display and iii) because my articles tend to me more longform and superficial than his (i.e. I tend to write a lot of drivel!). It was designed by my friend Yavuz Demirhan from Turkey who has hit the puzzle world very hard recently and is almost as prolific as Stéphane. Now here I can say that my experience with interlocking puzzles shows. Jerry struggled a little with the reassembly and, literally because I have done so many now, I found it fairly easy. This puzzle is much more logical than many of the interlocking puzzles and it actually reminded me a little of the old "woodchuck" puzzles I played with as a kid. But unlike the cheap chucks this is made beautifully from Maple, Wenge, Padauk and Robinia. Disassembly is very easy once you have found the key piece which moves but then if you haven't paid enough attention, the reassembly can be awkward but due to the logic and symmetry of the construction it is possible to do it without resorting to Burrtools. I love it and have done it many times since receiving it!

Finally my "stack of sticks" ends with the Autobahnkreuz 1 (another from Yavuz). This one worried me for a while because it reminded me of the warped board burr which I bought some time ago and which I still have not managed to solve without the aid of Burrtools! There are 2 versions of this puzzle on Ishino's site and thankfully Jakub has made number 1 which is the easiest at level - which is a nice little challenge (and not the horrific level which is number 2!) I played about with this for a while and discovered that there is a lot of movement possible in these sticks - notice that apart from the colour of the wood (the same 4 woods as the Konstrukt), they are all identical. Moving things around I managed to get a number of the pieces quite well separated and then suddenly a piece obviously was removable! As is my habit, I backtracked immediately to try and work out what I had done. I returned to it later and for some reason I just could not repeat the miraculous feat! Now why not? Another later attempt was successful and I suddenly realised that the puzzle is symmetrical but the pieces are not - so if you're not paying attention then the puzzle can be upside down and you not realise it and of course the moves that you tried before on one colour of piece won't work the wrong way around!!! Doh! Having realised this I have disassembled and reassembled it several times.

Every piece is an identical shape
I disassembled them all to make my stack of sticks photo at the top and now really hope that I remember them all well enough to put them together! They are all sitting on the desk next to me and muttering at me that I'm going to fail! Help!!!

I have suggested a few puzzles that Jakub may want to attempt to make for us and have also put him in touch with another great designer so he can get permission to reproduce their designs so over the next few months you can expect a whole lot more marvelous goodies from this brilliant pair of craftsmen.

So I did say that I was going to mention 2 brilliant craftsmen and so far all these gorgeous goodies have been made by just Jakub. Why haven't I put the other puzzles into the stack? Well the second craftsman that I received puzzles from is a relative newcomer to this - Stephan Baumegger from Austria has crashed onto the puzzle world via Facebook and seems to have only been displaying his work this year. He designs his own puzzles (many of which he has not posted on Puzzlewillbeplayed). He seems to specialise in burrs that tend to have very simple stick designs and as a consequence of this an enormous amount of possible movement of the pieces.
"Not another burr" you say! and "what's so special about these?"
The special thing about these is the very high difficulty - they can have a high level but the difficulty comes from the huge degree of freedom of the moves and also he has made some very interesting shapes. Stephan also makes them himself in very small numbers and to order. His workmanship is also superb!

These puzzles have not joined my stack of sticks picture because - I have yet to manage to disassemble even 1 of the 4 that I have made! Yes they are THAT difficult. My latest acquisitions have been these:

Excalibur - I wonder why?
Excalibur is named for obvious reasons and is a beautiful framed burr.

Thor's Hammer - he even plaited the thong
Thor's hammer is a very unusual type of burr - it consists of 3 conventional sticks (although one forms the handle of the hammer) but the rest of the puzzle is a stack of plates with various notches cut out - very clever and in the small amount of play that I have had it is quite disorienting and very hard to keep track of what you have done!

I don't have much time off during the upcoming holidays but I hope that I might manage to solve at least one! Wish me luck!

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